Leader Volume 9, Number 8
Greiner is co-founder of The Business Reader, a
business-to-business bookseller in Williamsburg, VA (email firstname.lastname@example.org). This
article is based on her books The
Basics of Idea Generation (Quality Resources, New York, 1997)
and 1,001 Ways to Keep Customers Coming Back (Prima Publishing, New
faster. These days, it's a common corporate mantra, but the
catchphrase leaves out a significant element. Better, cheaper, and
faster for whom? If you are thinking about long-term business
success, the missing "whom" must ultimately be your
company's customers. It's odd how often existing customers are
forgotten in the rush of daily business. Sales and marketing is
paying attention to bringing potential new customers into the
fold. Operational departments are working hard to efficiently,
effectively fill orders. Customer service and support teams are
busy putting out fires.
existing customers are walking, unnoticed and uncared for, out the
back door. It's true: Almost two thirds of customers who stop
doing business with companies say it's simply because they feel
ignored. They feel like their business doesn’t matter to the
companies they are patronizing.
That's why it is
so important to focus creative efforts on the customer. Better,
cheaper, and faster has to always be judged from the customer's
perspective -- even internal cost-cutting efforts have to
translate to lower prices, faster service, or better products for
collected actual customer retention ideas, we found that they
could be organized into a series of broad retention strategies.
We’ll convert the strategies into questions to help you focus
your creative efforts on customers.
can you build an unbeatable bundle of products and services? Your
bundle is the products and services you offer your customers. The
more comprehensive that bundle is, the less reason customers have
for doing business elsewhere.
Amazon.com is a
fine example of bundle building. The company started selling
books; but today, it keeps customers in its online store by adding
greeting cards, music, videos, tools, toys, software, and with the
zShops initiative, as many small, independently-owned stores as
the company can cram into cyberspace, to its product bundle.
jogger: A simple way to start thinking about bundles is to ask
your team what other products and services customers need to use
with the things that they buy from you. Ask how to best fill those
needs; should you provide them yourself or create a partnership to
provide them or deliver them in some other way?
kinds of incentives can you offer customers to return? Be it a
gift, a discount, special financing, or a chance to win what's
behind Curtain #1, customers come back for incentives.
Fast food chains
are experts at using incentives to drive repeat sales. McDonald's,
for example, cashed in on the Beanie Baby craze by offering a
series of specially designed Teenie Beanies with its Happy Meals
for kids. The promotion generated so much business in 1998 that
the burger giant ran it again in 1999.
jogger: Think about how your company can entice customers with
incentives. How about a discount for a second sale within a fixed
period, a free pamphlet that shows creative new uses for your
product, or extended financing for a repeat purchase?
can you tap into the communities of interest in your customer
base? A community of interest is simply a group of people that
share a common interest. Tapping into such communities, whether
your company controls them or not, is a good way to build repeat
business among the members of the group.
for example, has built a community out of its owners by giving a
free one-year membership in HOG (Harley Owner's Group) with each
new bike purchased. To get a feel for how strong, and how
valuable, that bond can be, just drop in on the 60th
annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota in August 2000
and suggest to a Harley owner that some other company builds a
jogger: Examine your customer base. Can you create a group
that brings customers together around the products and services
you offer? How about sponsoring a group that shows people how to
use your products most effectively? Or, can you tap into an
already established group outside of your business?
can you build trust into every transaction with customers? If
your customers don't trust you, they won't come back. Period. But,
if they do, you can survive the roughest seas.
one maker of refillable lighters left in the U.S., the Zippo
Manufacturing Company. What makes Zippo so special? The company's
simple, unequivocal lifetime warranty: "It works or we fix it
jogger: Guarantees and warranties are the most effective
trust-builders. How can you back your work with the most
compelling guarantee possible? Examine your pricing, products, and
services to find ways to eliminate any reservations about buying
from your company.
can you do good and do well at the same time? Chances are good
that your company is already actively working with non-profit and
charitable organizations but, does that work take into account
your customers' philanthropic interests? Doing well by doing good
can be a powerful loyalty builder.
children's clothing maker Hanna. Its "Hannadowns"
program encourages customers to return their purchases when their
kids have stopped wearing them. The customers get a 20% discount
on their next order, Hanna keeps the customer buying, and those in
need get 10,000 articles of returned clothing per month. Everybody
jogger: Ask your customers about their favorite charities.
Identify non-profits that work within your customer's industries.
Think about how your company can align it's charitable pursuits
with your customers' interests; how you can involve customers in
can you show your appreciation to every customer? Our parents
were right. Courtesy and thoughtfulness count and that is
especially true with customers.
cleaning products maker, New Pig Corporation, provides its
telephone customer service teams with fast access to an assortment
of greeting cards. Mention that your favorite football team won on
Sunday and a day or two later, the postman delivers a
congratulations card from the company.
jogger: How can you build appreciation into every transaction
with your customers? Do all team members know the company's
customers by name; how can you add a "thank you" to
every completed order; can you establish a formal or informal
frequent buyer program?
can you do to show your best customers how important they are to
you? If the Pareto Principle runs true at your company, you
will find that 20% of your customers contribute 80% of sales.
Every customer deserves to be recognized, but that top 20% of
customers also deserve something extra.
Japan's Oura Oil
turns its trophy customers into service station royalty. Customers
who purchase over 5,000 gallons of gas per year get a special club
card entitling them to plenty of extra services, such as free
windshield wiper fluid, whenever they gas up.
jogger: Identify your company's trophy customers and think
about how to reward them for the extra boost they contribute to
the bottom line. What kinds of personal recognition can you give
to your best customers? Can you show your appreciation with
can you make it easier to buy from you than your competitor. It's
not good business to make customers jump through hoops.
Convenience is king in a busy world and the companies that make it
easiest for their customers are the ones that will succeed.
Parcel Service. It created an elegant overnight package for
customers, like mortgage lenders, who send lots of documents that
require signatures and return shipping. The company made a
reusable envelope, so the recipient can simply sign the papers and
ship them back in the same package. Via UPS, of course.
jogger: Think about the points where customers come into
contact with your company. In what ways can you simplify them,
streamline them, and make them more convenient? Can you connect
the contact points to provide a single comprehensive access for
can you reach out to customers? Patience is not always a
virtue when it comes to customers, particularly if you are
patiently waiting for them to return on their own.
The Country Tree
Farm in Sebastopol, CA knows that it's tough to earn the loyalty
of customers who only come in once per year for a Christmas tree,
so it sends a thank you note with a twist. Buy your Xmas tree from
them and a thank you note arrives the following
Thanksgiving…along with directions back for this year's tree.
jogger: How can you notify customers that it is time to buy
again? Can you build an automatic stock reorder feature into your
product? Can you create a new contact point for sales during the
order delivery process?
do your customers want and how can you give it to them? Since
customers should be the focal point of innovative thinking, it
only makes sense that they are given the opportunity to contribute
to your creative efforts.
Fallon Clinic began listening to its customers' complaints and
found out that many of them centered on one department's doctors.
Some fast interpersonal skills training for the staff and patient
complaint levels were reduced by almost two-thirds.
jogger: Encourage, collect, and analyze customer complaints
and desires. What products and services that you do not provide do
they commonly ask for when they talk to sales and service
personnel? How can you build customers directly into product
how can you build a workforce of customer focus champions? A
strong focus on customers, as evidenced by companies such as
Southwest Airlines and Nordstrom's, is an important competitive
advantage. Building such a focus means that leaders need to set an
example, organizational systems need to be aligned with that goal,
and excellence in customer service be celebrated.
Online president Bob Pittman. Pittman refuses formal training in
the new member features that AOL offers its subscribers. Instead,
he figures out how to use the features on his own -- exactly the
same way, AOL customers must.
jogger: How do you, as a manager and leader, demonstrate the
importance of customer focus in your own actions? How do you
communicate that focus to employees? Are your reward systems
aligned to customer satisfaction? How can you celebrate excellence
in customer service?